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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Eye floaters are annoying, but usually harmless

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Many people, especially as they age, will notice what looks like something faint floating in their field of vision.

WebMD explains that these ‘floaters’ are quite common and they can appear as dots, squiggly lines, webs, and rings.

They develop over time as collagen in the gel-like fluid in the back of the eye clump together and cast shadows on the retina. This fluid is called the vitreous, and it creates these clumps as it shrinks during the aging process. They are not usually dangerous and can come and go over time, but severe cases can be quite frustrating if they affect vision in a meaningful way.

In rare cases, these floaters can be a sign of a more serious condition such as eye disease, diabetic retinopathy, tumors, or injury. Harvard Medical School warns that as the vitreous shrinks it can begin to tug on the retina it is attached to as it pulls away. In some cases, this will tear the retina and can lead to retinal detachment and permanent vision loss. This situation will require immediate medical attention to avoid losing vision, and in most cases, the tear can be treated with either laser or cold therapies.

Treating the floaters themselves is not always a realistic option, and over time, most people seem to notice them less often. For those severe cases, the Mayo Clinic explains that there are two main ways to eliminate eye floaters: lasers and surgery. Using lasers, an ophthamologist can pinpoint specific floaters and try to break them up into less noticeable pieces.

Unfortunately, results with this treatment are mixed, and there is some risk of retina damage. The other option, surgery, involves removing the vitreous entirely and replacing it with a similar fluid to support the eye’s shape. Like the laser treatment, results are mixed, and new floaters can develop later. There are also risks of retinal tears and bleeding.

Low blood pressure can be risky for the heart

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Everyone knows that high blood pressure is dangerous for the heart, but so is low pressure.

A recent study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology focused on what happens as the systolic blood pressure (SBP), and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) change.
For instance, most experts agree that if these numbers should go above 140 mmHg or 90 mmHg (hypertension), respectively, then they should be treated with medication. On the other end of the spectrum, levels that are too low, less than 60 mmHg (hypotension), could result in the heart muscles not receiving enough oxygen and eventually becoming damaged. These levels indicate an increased risk for heart disease and even death. Taking medication for high blood pressure could lead to a situation in which pressure becomes too low as well as highlighting the fact that doctors must monitor these cases closely.

Symptoms of low blood pressure can come in many forms, and The American Heart Association highlights dizziness, nausea, fainting, dehydration, blurred vision, clammy skin, and fatigue as possibilities. There isn’t a specific level of blood pressure that causes these symptoms and each person will measure slightly differently. Noticing any of these symptoms, regardless of whether or not they are related to blood pressure, is an excellent time to seek the advice of a medical professional.

Pregnancy is one of the most common causes of low blood pressure as a woman’s circulatory system expands for the growing child.

Underlying heart problems, endocrine issues, diabetes, blood loss, anemia, and certain types of infections and allergies can also be the culprit.

Age, as well, can lead to one form of low blood pressure called orthostatic hypotension that causes big drops after standing or eating.

Getting rid of household germs can help you avoid colds

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You can give yourself a good chance to stay healthy this winter by thoroughly washing your hands and attacking germs where they hide.

In the kitchen: Sink handles, sinks, and counters are the biggest offenders. Clean sinks, sink drains, and counters with antibacterial soap at least once a day. Wash your sponge in the dishwasher to kill germs.

Fresh vegetables and fruits: They may carry salmonella, campylobacter, or E. coli, say microbiologists at New York University. Rinse them thoroughly.

In the laundry: Add bleach to a load of white clothes that includes underwear. It kills virtually all of the germs on underwear so they don’t spread. Move the load immediately to the dryer and dry at a high temperature.

In the bathroom: Use a disinfecting cleaner on the bathtub weekly. If someone with a skin infection uses the tub, wash it with bleach right away so you don’t pick up the germs.

Shared devices: Use antibacterial cleaner frequently on telephones, TV remotes, door handles, and shared keyboards, especially if someone in the household has an illness.

Research in COPD leads to hope for new treatments

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Researchers have found a link to making lung cells repair themselves, leading to hope for treatment for COPD.

A recent breakthrough from the German Center for Lung Research has found a link between a molecule called Wnt5a and the inability of lung cells to repair their damaged tissue. They found that this molecule disrupts the natural signaling behavior in the body that starts the process of regenerating damaged cells. Isolating the molecule allowed scientists to replicate a cell’s inability to heal itself reliably. Using this knowledge, it is possible that medication could be developed that eliminates Wnt5a from the lungs and allows the cells to resume normal function. Although the technology does not yet exist, a possible solution to a disease without a current cure is always a positive outcome.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an incredibly prevalent problem that the COPD Foundation estimates 30 million people are dealing with in the United States alone. Capturing several different progressive lung diseases like chronic bronchitis, refractory asthma, emphysema, and bronchiectasis, COPD causes severe issues with breathing, which are often not reversible. Sufferers can expect to experience breathlessness, persistent coughing, wheezing, and even tightness in the chest cavity.

Although smoking is listed as one of the primary causes of COPD, cigarettes are just increasing the inhalation of harmful pollutants that lead to problems. Chemicals, dust and fumes, and other irritants found in a variety of work environments and breathed in regularly, are just as likely to cause issues. Genetic markers, as well, can point to an increased risk of developing lung problems. Both of these causes lead to widespread deterioration in the lung cells responsible for capturing oxygen from the air.

Breathed air travels from the windpipe down into the airways, called bronchi, which all have a cluster of air sacs attached to them called alveoli. There are tiny hair-like sweeper cells, called cilia, that typically clear mucus out of the airways and allow the lungs to function correctly. However, as the pollutants damage the cilia, the airways narrow and become swollen. Although some medications can slow the process, researchers haven’t yet found a way to help the damaged cells repair themselves.

Thanksgiving Sleepy: It’s about the gobbler, but not the one you might think

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It has become a truism: You get sleepy at Thanksgiving because of all that tryptophan in turkey.

But is it true? Yes and no, but mostly no.

It is true that the amino acid tryptophan works as a precursor to other sleep-inducing chemicals. Turkey has lots of it. But cheese and nuts have more. Even Tofu-turkey has more, according to Wired.com.

In 1972 a psychiatrist named John Fernstrom looked into the tryptophan connection and found that tryptophan alone does not make you sleepy. Instead, he found that it’s really a carb-heavy meal of mashed potatoes, pie, dressing, and bread. Those carbs create loads of sugar and force amino acids to go to work breaking it all down. With amino acids busy fighting sugars, the brain starts converting tryptophan into serotonin and suddenly you feel you just can’t watch another third and 10 on the game. Snores ensue.

It’s not just the chemistry of the meal, however. The parasympathetic nervous system also has a role to play. This little brain gadget does things in the background so you don’t think about them; like breathing.

When you eat too much, you have to digest a lot. The parasympathetic nervous system kicks in to give the body energy to digest and takes away energy elsewhere. You feel tired and it’s because you ate a really big carb-loaded meal.

Too late to do anything about it.

Just kick off your shoes and don’t blame the turkey.

Bringing water to rural Africa

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A British startup is attempting to do what billions of dollars and dozens of donors have not: Bring a reliable source of water to rural Sub-Saharan Africa.

In the past, Solar pumps were distributed to villages with mixed results. If the pumps broke down, villages typically couldn’t repair them, according to The Economist.

According to The Water Project, 783 million people do not have access to safe water worldwide, and 319 million of those are living in Sub-Saharan Africa alone.

Without reliable pumps, people use surface water found in pools or dig shallow holes near rivers. The water is often contaminated and is the source of as much as 80 percent of all illnesses in the area.

Now eWater has devised a plan to install pay-as-you-go solar pumps which are equipped with their own repair strategy. The pumps dispense water in response to electronic tags. At local shops, villagers spend one cent for 20 liters of water. Shopkeepers refill the tags via smart phones. Then 85 percent of the money collected is reserved for future repairs. The taps are connected to mobile networks and can transmit their status.

According to eWater, the women and girls who collect the water now take care not to spill it since they are paying for it.

The link between sitting and poor health

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We drive to work, sit at a desk, drive home and watch television — that’s all sitting time and it’s bad for health.

According to the American Heart Association, Americans spent about 38 hours per week sitting in 2009 compared to only 26 hours in 1965. This rise in sedentary behavior, along with a decrease in the amount of time spent performing a moderate-to-vigorous activity, has been linked to several health issues including increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and back pain.

According to Time Magazine, the body needs energy to power individual cells, break down and digest food, and create “activity energy” which can be divided into active exercise and Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). The last type, NEAT, includes all of the energy used for required movements throughout the day like walking or even typing at a desk.

Sitting for extended periods of time lowers the amount of NEAT energy needed throughout the day which starts to turn off processes that burn calories and turn on the ones that build fat. Inactivity, especially around meals, leads to muscles that aren’t soaking up glucose from the food and become more insulin resistant. This resistance causes the body to release more and more insulin which can lead to diabetes over time.

As if problems with weight gain and heart disease weren’t enough, the Washington Post also points out that sitting can lead to a whole host of other issues in the body related to pain and overall fitness because of the position of the body.

The hips, for instance, remain unextended for long periods of time and can become tight with a limited range of motion along with weakened glutes. This decreased range is a primary reason why the elderly are prone to falling. Similarly, the position can cause poor circulation in many areas of the body such as legs, spinal discs, and the brain.

Nothing wrong with most fat, experts say

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Good fats and bad fats, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats vs. saturated or trans fatty acids; infographic

It is just possible that the fat-free movement made us fat. And unhealthy.
Recent research shows that not all fat is bad and the movement to go fat-free threw out good fats along with bad ones.

When all fat is removed from a product, something has to take its place and that is usually carbohydrates in the form of sugars. And, along the way, good fats are eliminated.

In fact, not all nutritional fat, which has zero carbohydrates, is bad.

According to the Harvard Medical School Health letter, healthy fats are an essential part of how the human body functions as they provide energy, build cell membranes, sheath nerves, and aid in blood clotting and muscle movement.

The most harmful fats are trans fats, which have been increasingly phased out of food products. These fats are created through a human-made process that keeps the fat solid at room temperature and allows it to be used in food such as solid margarines and fast food french fries. Trans fat has been found to increase harmful LDL cholesterol while reducing beneficial HDL cholesterol. It has also been linked to inflammation, increasing the risk of heart disease and strokes as well as insulin resistance, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Saturated fat, the type found in red meat and whole milk, is not necessarily bad for you but it can drive up total cholesterol and create more harmful LDL cholesterol.

According to Harvard, a meta-analysis of 21 studies found there was not enough evidence to conclude that “saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease, but that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat may indeed reduce risk of heart disease.” In addition, two other major studies found that replacing saturated fat with highly processed carbohydrates actually increased the risk of heart disease, according to Harvard.

The healthiest fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats are liquid at room temperature and can be found in such foods as olives, peanuts, avocados, nuts, and vegetable oils like corn and sunflower. Monounsaturated fats gained fame when it was discovered that the so-called “Mediterranean diet” in countries like Greece produced low levels of heart disease even when people were eating large quantities of fat.

Polyunsaturated fats are called essential fats because the body needs them, but can’t make them. These fats have to come from food

Study: Yoga or therapy may help back pain

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If you suffer from chronic low back pain, you might be desperate for some sort of solution to the debilitating condition.

Chronic low back pain is a widespread problem. According to WebMD, Americans spend over $50 billion each year on back pain. About 80 percent of the population will experience a back problem at some time in their lives.

There has been a lot of publicity touting the benefits of yoga and physical therapy for back pain relief, especially as doctors move away from painkillers as a solution.

But a recent study suggests aching consumers shouldn’t expect complete relief.

The study results showed that both yoga and physical therapy help some people some of the time, but they don’t work for everyone and the pain relief was not perfect.

According to the June 2017 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 320 patients with persistent back pain were assigned either yoga, physical therapy or educational instruction on managing back pain.

After 12 weeks, about 48 percent of the yoga group had a ‘clinically meaningful’ improvement in their pain. The same was true for 37 percent of physical therapy patients. The study’s authors said the difference between the yoga and physical therapy results were not statistically significant and both therapies appeared to make some difference during a year’s time.

In an editorial accompanying the study, one of the authors, Dr. Stefan Kertesz of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, cautioned on overselling yoga as a solution. “The reality is, yoga was not a panacea for most of these patients.”

If you want to try yoga for your back, be sure you take a beginner’s class with gentle poses aided with chairs.

Celiac Disease Awareness Month: What’s all the fuss about gluten?

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It’s nearly impossible to go to a restaurant or a supermarket now and not be bombarded with labels touting “gluten free” ingredients and recipes.

Today people are acutely aware of an allergy to a protein in wheat, barley and rye. This allergy is called celiac disease.

With all of the sudden attention to this disease, it almost seems like a recent discovery. But, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation, it has been acknowledged for nearly 2,000 years.

It was ancient Greece, in fact, where a physician first noticed patients that presented with diarrhea and malabsorption.  They used the term “coeliac,” from the Greek word for abdominal, to describe the condition and the modern name evolved from there.  Much later, during the food supply shortages of World War II, European doctors noticed that fewer children were dying from this disease as wheat became a rare commodity.  This link started the decades-long research of wheat, gluten, and celiac disease.

The Mayo Clinic explains that when those with celiac disease eat gluten, it creates an immune reaction in the small intestine.  With continued exposure, this response will damage the lining of the intestine and affect the way the body digests food and absorbs nutrients from it.  Side effects from this malabsorption can include chronic diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, and more.  At this time, there is no reliable cure for this disease but abstaining from gluten entirely can prevent nearly all of the complications from the disease.

Despite the widespread coverage of celiac disease recently, Stefano Guandalini, a doctor at the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, points out that gluten has been around since wheat was cultivated over 10,000 years ago and has remained largely unchanged over the years.  It is estimated that about 1 percent of the population has celiac disease and many of those people are currently undiagnosed.  More alarming is that celiac disease does seem to be becoming more common as only about .2 percent of the population were estimated to have it in the 1950s.

Although many people probably don’t have to worry about this affliction, greater awareness of any illness is always helpful with prevention and finding a cure.